This woman gives lawyers a good name
It can be hard to fathom how a lawyer can stand up for a person who’s obviously a pedophile or a murderer. Even harder when that client is accused of mass murder.
It requires grace, toughness, dignity and resolve, qualities that Melinda Taylor, the Australian who was detained by the Zintan Martyrs Brigade in Libya, seems to have in great store.
Taylor, 36, a lawyer for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, who was released last week in part due to Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s initiatives, gave an impressive account of herself when making a statement on Friday, Europe time, from The Hague.
She acknowledged it had been tough during her 26 days of detention, especially being apart from her two-year-old daughter, who was back in The Hague with her husband.
But her unflinching focus was for her client, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of dead dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, wanted by the ICC to face crimes against humanity.
Saif’s legal prospects may be limited. But that’s where Taylor comes in. She showed why it is we need lawyers. Or, at least, good lawyers.
The ICC was denied its chance to try Colonel Gaddafi when, in October, rebels killed him in a disgraceful, if explicable, rage of revenge. The following month, the Zintan Martyrs caught Saif as he was attempting to flee the country.
Saif was taken to Zintan, southwest of Tripoli.
The Zintan Martyrs and the provisional post-Gaddafi government, the National Transitional Council, have not been willing to hand Saif to the ICC to face crimes against humanity. They believe he should answer to Libya, in Libya.
They may have an argument but Libya is under orders from the UN Security Council to hand him over for trial, and Taylor under orders to defend him.
A stalemate exists and the best that can be said is that the Zintanis have refrained from murdering Saif.
Taylor first visited Saif in April to begin preparing his defence.
At that meeting, according to an account believed to have been written by Taylor, when the Libyan monitors left the room for a moment he showed her a missing tooth and two fingers that had been hacked off by his captors.
He was desperate to go The Hague and Taylor was desperate to get him there.
None of this suggests Taylor had succumbed to the quixotic Gaddafi charm. Rather, she was determined to do her job, even as prosecutors from her own organisation ran a public line that Saif should be tried in Libya.
Taylor returned on June 7, with three others from the ICC. She was alleged to have given Saif a coded letter from Mohammed Ismail, a former intelligence officer and right-hand man to Saif who is on the run.
Taylor was also accused of going into meeting carrying miniature video recorders.
Saif was said to have given Taylor a document stating he was being ill-treated.
Taylor, treated as a spy, would spend the best part of a month out of contact in a Zintan jail, despite her immunity from such detention. The Libyan authorities gave her minimum consular access (two brief visits) and she was allowed one five-minute phone call to her husband and daughter.
It was Carr’s idea that the ICC should apologise to Libya, mainly on the grounds that the ICC had failed to properly plan or explain the meeting with the Libyans. The ICC did so, no doubt reluctantly, and said it would investigate Taylor’s actions.
Carr, who was in New York last week, and gave News Ltd a briefing of the events, probably didn’t love the apology idea himself. But at least it got Taylor and her colleagues out of Libya.
Taylor, back on safe ground, was unrepentant, saying she had done nothing unprofessional and had been illegally detained. She said any documents exchanged between her and her client were covered by professional privilege.
She said she had not been mistreated by her guards, but by the Libyan government. Any questions about her conduct would deal with by the ICC, next week. But the benefit of the doubt belongs, for now, with Taylor.
“It is the position of the defence that these recent events have completely underscored that it would be impossible for Mr Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to be tried in an independent and impartial manner in Libyan courts,” said Taylor.
No television tears or self-pity. She’s someone you’d want on your side, especially if your name is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
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